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Paul Darke's Blog - disability arts online
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Disability Arts Online

Monday 28 January 2008 / 28 January 2008

Welcome to my blog: the meandering thoughts of someone trying, failing and moving forward. When I write I try to clarify what I think today: knowing that as I write it will make me believe something else: something different, something quite possibly the opposite of what I have just written. Take the journey with me; understand the attempt to grasp what I think, what we can think, now: this blog is an exchange of ideas. Do not be offended: I am struggling to understand what is happening around me; struggling to understand why I have the thoughts I am sharing (uncensored). Don’t hate me: tell me I am wrong and why (for you may well be right).

Tough times we live in – well, for some anyway. The Arts Council of England is about to announce the final decision on its arts funding review. Will LDAF be culled like NDAF was; and will other Disability Arts organisations be culled or ear-marked for a future slow death (probably without being told). Equally, who will be rewarded for their work? Tough times indeed!

In the West Midlands we had the good fortune to see the demise of WMDAF a couple of years ago now (for a number of reasons on which few can agree). I say good fortune because the money that WMDAF did not eat up was subsequently available for a single Disability Arts Festival in Wolverhampton which we at Outside Centre were lucky enough to get to deliver the Festival (Theatre & Film plus much more). ACE put nearly £2 million into WMDAF over about ten years with little to show for it. If I had known ACE would put that kind of money in to WMDAF when I was the first director of it I would have stayed (and achieved great things). But like ACE, I did not think that far ahead.

What do I think of the ACE funding plans: a difficult one indeed? I have advocated the closure of NDAF for quite a considerable time (especially once DAO was started) and I am glad to see ACE have finally pulled the plug on it. Like many Disability organisations its problem was that it consumed vast amounts of money just to exist irrespective of what it delivered or the quality of its work. Often organisations consume vast amounts of money on premises, staff, computer equipment and other hard and software: the reality of being an organisation before it actually does anything at all. All this whilst disabled artists survive on small commissions that can hardly feed them (whilst they have to buy their own equipment and pay their own bills). I have always liked what the staff did at NDAF (and hope they succeed in there new venture together: the Disability Cultural Projects). But, like many organisations, I have felt for a long time that the money could be better spent. Do I trust ACE to spend it better – time will tell. I suspect that many of the individuals who will or have lost their jobs may be better of – having a better call on any Lottery funding applications due to their own network of contacts and insights into the workings of ACE and their Lottery panels than most artists.

In relation to the potential loss of LDAF I have equally ambivalent feelings. Again, not the individuals involved (all excellent) but an organisation can be a hindrance especially if you are not one of the favoured few who are friends and / or in the circle of people running them (exclusion is not usually out of malice but occasionally it may be). Like all people and organisations, they support what they know (as is the case of all organisations disability or not – look at the BBC). No organisation has a divine right to eternal funding (even if they are excellent). If they did (and many wrongly do in the mainstream arts) culture will eventually hit a cul-de-sac of stale inertia of banality and unoriginality; just as most mainstream arts organisations and venues have (the bfi, the BBC, Channel 4, regional theatres and many others to list but a few … ).

The problem is that the disability arts organisations are easy targets; when in reality it should be the big mainstream organisations that should be targeted for the gluttonous amounts of money they consume just to exist (including ACE in many cases). Or, and how about this for an idea, get rid of all disability organisations (and race and sexuality ones too) and then we take it turns to run all the mainstream organisations and venues: thereby having the opportunity to actually make a difference.

The reality is that the disability arts organisations across the country get such a pissy amount of money anyway that they most may as well not actually exist anyway (that is the crime of arts funding and it always has been and always will be). We will never actually be given enough to make a difference to culture anyway. All most funding does in the disability arts (and arts and disability) sector is give a few trainers, consultants and adminstrators a job anyway. The creative many merely subsist on the crumbs scattered around from trusts, Lottery Boards and friends.